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Patten: Being the Change

Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and CEO of Facebook likes to pick grand challenges for his new years resolution. In 2015, it was to read a new book every other week - a challenge for a millennial CEO of a $12 Billion company. Previous resolutions have included learning to speak Mandarin, and writing a thank-you note every single day.

This year, it wasn’t his resolution that struck me, it was his response to the very first comment he received.

His 2016 resolution? To build a personal artificial intelligence to help him manage his life and work. Ok, that’s impressive. The first comment on his resolution was from a grandmother. She said “I keep telling my granddaughters to date the nerd in school, he may turn out to be a Mark Zuckerberg!”

This well intentioned comment resulted in the following response from Zuckerberg: “Even better would be to encourage them to be the nerd in their school.”

I found his response inspiring. In this age, when we consider ourselves as enlightened as ever before, it’s shocking how many times women and girls are subtly steered away from certain career paths.

The fact that women are paid, on average, .79 for every dollar a man earns is shocking. But the cause of that truth is perhaps even more shocking. It’s less because we consciously choose to pay women less, and more because we tend to steer girls toward lower earning careers.

According to the Whitehouse, women make up just 24% of the STEM workforce. That’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math - fields we typically think of as belonging to men.

We’ve got to stop telling our girls to marry the powerful, because what we’re actually telling them is they can’t be powerful.

If you think we’re past this kind of gender stereotyping, you might be shocked to see what I see as the father of a daughter. Legos, those fun blocks you played with as a kid, are still sold in girl kits and boy kits. The girl category includes a supermarket, swimming pool, and beauty salon.

My daughter is beautiful - but she’s also smart, independent, and powerful. And I tell her this every day.

So for 2016, I resolve to be the change I wish to see in the world by helping all of the daughters in my life see that they can be, and do, anything.

Cyrus Patten is Executive Director of a political action committee that seeks to reform our campaign finance laws. He lives and writes in Williston with his wife and two children.
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